Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

A County Opinion on City Legal Dispute?

Dispute between council and City Attorney gets ever stranger, as committee requests county corp counsel's opinion.

By - May 10th, 2021 04:57 pm
The Couture Rendering. Rendering by Rinka Chung Architecture.

The Couture Rendering. Rendering by RINKA.

Construction on the 44-story The Couture apartment tower is getting started, but the fight that emerged on a last-minute adjustment isn’t over.

When developer Barrett Lo Visionary Development needed a liability shield added to the $19.5 million city financing agreement to satisfy investors, the Department of City Development was poised to grant it in exchange for a $1.41 million personal guarantee for a portion of a federal streetcar grant that funds a line that will run through the base of the building.

The Common Council, led by Alderman Robert Bauman, decided to use its leverage to add a $100,000 contribution by Barrett Lo to an anti-displacement housing fund. Barrett Lo agreed, and DCD Commissioner Lafayette Crump even backed the amendment via email before raising concerns at a committee meeting.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer said Bauman overstepped his authority as an alderman and committed an ethics violation by pushing for the amendment. Spencer, in a letter, said Bauman violated state statute 19.59 and city ordinance 303-5-3 that “prohibit a local official from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence that official’s vote.” He also said the council violated city ordinance 304-21 in approving a contract greater than $25,000 without city attorney approval.

Spencer refused to sign the agreement, placing the $190 million project in jeopardy.

A compromise was reached when Spencer agreed to allow a mutually selected third party to review the matter. Mediator and former judge Chuck Kahn (and landlord to Spencer’s former private practice office) was ultimately selected to decide if the council acted appropriately. The $100,000 sits in escrow until Kahn renders an opinion.

Now, a new resolution from Ald. Jose G. Perez seeks the opinion of Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun.

“I thought this would move the file forward and deal with the bigger picture issue of amendments by the council on agreements moving forward,” said Perez at a Monday afternoon meeting of the Steering & Rules Committee. The committee unanimously approved the request, but the full council must still adopt it.

Daun could resolve a question that seems to be coming up with increased frequency. Can the council modify tax incremental financing agreements Mayor Tom Barrett‘s administration negotiates? It just did so again with the Milwaukee Tool deal, and previously added an amendment to the Fiserv Forum deal.

The county’s top attorney, unlike the City Attorney, is not an independent, elected official. Daun was hired by the County Executive in 2017 and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. Despite now working in the Courthouse, she’s quite familiar with the inner workings of City Hall. Daun previously served as an assistant city attorney and later as head of the city’s deferred compensation plan.

Neither the council, nor Spencer, can compel Daun to respond. Will she?

Daun did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: A County Opinion on City Legal Dispute?”

  1. Mingus says:

    Mr. Spencer likes to generate unnecessary controversy when he has a chance. He is trying to generate a political persona so that he can run for another office?

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